Change Bike DF-702 Review

We first discovered the Change folding bike in the flesh when we paid a visit to the Taipei Cycle show in April earlier this year. I almost missed the booth as we were in a rush on the last day, but Nadiah’s keen eye managed to spot the bikes and we made a stop to have a look. 

The models that were on display included an MTB, a hybrid and a road bike. To the first time observer, they all certainly appeared to be regular full-sized bikes. The MTB model on display was built up with Shimano XT components, and the 700c road bike with a silver polished wheel set appeared to be a classic road tourer. As we inspected the bikes more closely, we noticed a metal clamp integrated into the seat tube and asked what it was. And that was when the magic was unveiled.

In under two minutes, the bike’s folding magic was revealed. With the front wheel released and the metal clamp undone, the bike quickly folded in half, swiveling at the seat post. And once folded, it was still quite maneuverable and could be easily pushed around.

With a weight of only 10.5kg for size S (that's around 23 pounds for you Imperial folks), it is a fairly lightweight full-sized road tourer that just HAPPENS to fold. Mind blown.

Fast forward to a few months later, I succumbed to my bike acquisition addiction and contacted the Change Bike folks back in Taipei. I was deliberating between the Hybrid and Road model, and in the end decided that I wanted a bike with 700c wheels in my stable.

Frame sizes

The Change Bike DF-702 is the 700c model and is available in four frame sizes:

  • Small - Seat tube: 460mm, Top tube: 540mm
  • Medium - Seat tube: 490mm, Top tube: 555mm
  • Large - Seat tube: 520mm, Top tube: 570mm
  • Extra Large - Seat tube: 550mm, Top tube: 550mm

What would be nice to have though is one smaller frame size, speaking on behalf of people who are petite sized (like Nadiah). For example, manufacturers such as Felt and Ritchey provide an XS frame size that gives a better fit for petite riders. We are either looking at a seat tube size of 430mm or a top tube length of 520mm. More often than not, it is much easier to make a small frame bigger with a longer stem or seatpost, versus making a big frame smaller. To be honest though, the available sizes are already perfect as it works for the majority of cyclists out there.

Frame weight

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For those interested in weight measurements, the weight of the frame itself is around 2.3kg, and it comes with a lugged chromoly steel front fork that weighs around 980g. You're basically looking at a frame and fork package that's slightly over 3kg which isn't too bad. If you really wanted to go the weight weenie route, you could swap out the chromoly fork for a carbon one.

I communicated with Alice who was extremely patient with my numerous questions – everything from frame measurements, tyre sizes, components and other random questions related to bike fit. I recently had a bike fit done and had a bunch of measurements handy, so I wanted to confirm the little details.  Happy with the answers that I got, I made the order for a medium sized frame and in just a matter of two days, a bike box from Taipei arrived at my office in Kuala Lumpur.

First Impressions

I brought the bike box home and was obviously too excited to wait for the next day to open it. The bike was packaged neatly in its folded form, so all I had to do was lift it out of the box, unfold it, attach the seatpost and fix the front wheels to the fork. The brakes and drivetrain were already well adjusted straight from the factory, and it was pretty much ready to ride out of the box!

Fresh out of the box and all ready to go after I take off the foam wraps. Complete by attaching the seatpost and saddle of choice.

The frame is painted black with a nice satin sheen, and it contrasts quite nicely against the polished silver hardware for a classic look. The seatpost, stem, handlebars, rim brakes and kickstand are all in polished silver and built to last. I would have much preferred a two-bolt clamp for the seatpost, but the single bolt design still works well if you tighten it properly.

The frame and fold

Folding and unfolding the frame is an extremely uncomplicated affair and I figured it out without much instructions at all. The primary lock is located at the seat tube underneath the top tube joint, and the secondary lock is a quick release lever located at the bottom of the seat tube. Both locking mechanisms are easy to operate and the frame locks into place through interlocking teeth built into the seat tube.

To fold the bike:

  1. Remove the front wheel and set that aside first
  2. Release the primary lock at the seat tube
  3. Undo the secondary quick release lever lock
  4. Remove the detachable pedals and angle the non-drive side pedal to be parallel with the down tube
  5. Hold the seatpost and push down on the frame to release it
  6. Swivel the frame inwards with the drive side facing out
  7. Lock the kickstand to the front fork
  8. Attach the front wheel to the built-in mounting point in the frame

It's amazingly simple and effective – no surprise that they were awarded the Golden Pin design award for their patented folding system. As I've mentioned above, the overall process takes me less than 2 minutes. When in folded form, the chain ring will never touch the ground as the secondary locking lever and down tube give it clearance and therefore protection. Clever!

The Change Bike DF-702 in full, in folded form, and a close-up of the primary locking mechanism. 

As a product manager, I can appreciate how much engineering hours went into the design. There's a lot of hard work that goes into making something really simple, and in the case of Change Bike, I think they've nailed it. Their marketing presence may not be as prominent as the other folding bike brands out there, but it is quite clear that most of their dollars are spent on design and manufacturing. The Change Bike DF-702 is the lightest full-sized 700c folding bike with an aluminum frame in the market. Period.

There is a dropout mount on the rear triangle of the frame where you can attach the front wheel when the bike is folded. Incredibly easy to operate!

And here's another awesome fact: They are also the only folding bike manufacturer that passed the European Racing Bike frame test, EN 14781.

Standard components

Here's the low down on the essentials straight from the factory:

  • Frame: AL 7005 Double Butted
  • Front fork: Lugged chromoly steel
  • Shifters: Shimano Claris 3S/8S flatbar shifters
  • Front Derailleur: Shimano Claris FD-2403 3-speed
  • Rear Derailleur: Shimano Claris RD-2400 8-speed
  • Crankset: Shimano Claris 50/39/30T 170L
  • Cassette: Shimano 8-speed CS-HG50-8 11-32T
  • Brakes: Tektro R725 rim brakes
  • Tires: 700x25c Maxxis Detonator
  • Wheels: ISO 622x14 rims, double layered, silver polished, bearing hub
  • Stem: AL 6061, Length: 90mm, Rise: 7 degrees, Steerer: 28.6mm, Clamp: 25.4mm
  • Handlebar: AL 6061, Diameter: 25.4mm, Bend: 5 degrees, Length: 560mm
  • Seatpost: AL 6061, Diameter: 31.6mm, Length: 300mm
  • Saddle: Velo
  • Pedals: Wellgo QRD C-128 detachable pedals
  • Carry bag: Included! Bring along your bike on trains and buses!

For touring, the factory standard components gives you enough gear inches with a road triple crankset and a generous 11-32T cassette. With 700x25c tires, this gives you a spread of 24 to 125 gear inches over 24 speeds. There are enough overlapping gears to help you find the right cadence.

In my experience, that's enough gear inches to get you up steep climbs with around 10kg of luggage. If you intend to carry more stuff with you, there is always the option to swap the crankset with lower ratios. And since this bike uses standard components across the entire build, you are spoilt for choice for what's out there in the market when it comes to upgrades.

Here's a sneak peek at one of my upgrades. This is the Independence leather saddle from Rivet Cycle Works with titanium rails, weighing 360g.

If you want to switch to 28c tires, there is enough clearance in the frame and also the caliper brakes. But in doing so, I recommend switching to slightly wider rims that have an internal width of 17mm or more to truly get the benefits of higher volume tires.

For now, I will stick to 25c tires.

Frame-only option available

If you are interested in just getting the frame, Change Bike can also supply just that, inclusive of the front fork. For those of you who are interested in speccing out your own build, this is one way to go. I could have gone this route, but in the end I wanted to have a rideable bike while waiting for my future upgrades to arrive. I'll share details on that once my project completes ;-)

Update April 10, 2018: The bike has been converted to drop bars and a complete drivetrain upgrade! Find out more in my blog post about customizing the Change Bike.

The ride experience

To date, I have owned and ridden a Birdy folding bike, and the third-generation Reach folding bike from Pacific Reach.

The ensemble of black! From the left is Charcoal the cat, the Change Bike DF-702, the Reach Racing, and the Birdy Mark 3. Burrito the cat observes from the right. 

The Birdy rolls on 355 or 406 wheels, and the Reach rolls on 451 wheels. They are both excellent folding bikes with unique strengths.

  • The Birdy is the quickest to unfold and ride within just seconds and is the best commuter option with comfort and performance in mind. It can even be used for touring, although trying to cover longer distances with small wheels can be a bit more challenging. Read more about our cycling trip in the Noto peninsula of Japan: Cycling Noto, Japan. 
  • The Reach actually folds into the most compact package even with slightly larger wheels, and it is a great bike to bring with you when traveling. It fits into a suitcase and I've brought it with me to Jogjakarta and Taipei. The ride feels closer to a full-sized bike. Read more about our cycling trip in Borobudur: Cycling Borobudur to Jogjakarta.

Nadiah's second generation Reach Racing and my Change Bike DF-702 chilling out along hilly Jalan Pudu Lama in Kuala Lumpur. 

So then why did I decide to get yet another folding bike, and specifically the Change Bike? Other than the completely legitimate excuse of my bike acquisition addiction, bigger 700c wheels naturally give you more momentum and a bigger range of gear inches. And weighing at only 10.5kg, that's light for something bigger, especially if you consider that it weighs practically the same as the Birdy, the Reach, and the Brompton. These bikes all weigh around the 10kg mark, but the Change Bike gives you true full frame geometry with 700c wheels.

How does that translate into the real world? Simply this: Ride faster, ride longer. The latter is especially important, especially if you are traveling and looking to cover greater distances and reduce fatigue. When you have 100km to cover in a day and the terrain ahead is completely unpredictable, this is where it makes a difference.

The first few rides – Exploring Kuala Lumpur!

Enjoying the views after climbing up into Jalan Kerayong. This is the Kwong Tong Cemetery which has been around for more than 100 years.

To really get a good feel of the DF-702, I decided that the best first ride would be to throw in a combination of everything. Multiple hill climbs, parks, flat sections to accelerate, busy and tight streets with traffic, cultural detours, and food stops. All of that can be done straight out of our doorstep in Kuala Lumpur, and I took it for a 50km spin and did slightly more than 1,000m of climbing. Yes, Kuala Lumpur is actually quite a hilly city!

So how was the ride quality like? Read on to find out!

Strolling along a row of heritage buildings heading towards Jalan Petaling from Jalan Hang Jebat. 

Ride stability. Bigger wheels roll over bumps and potholes more easily than smaller wheels. The chromoly steel front fork also did a fantastic job of dampening road vibrations, much better than an aluminum fork could. And if I did happen to hit bigger bumps or potholes, the momentum of the bigger wheels helped to keep my steering in check and didn't veer off incredibly so. I found that I was able to be more relaxed and not worry about the imperfections of the road too much, which generally resulted in slightly less fatigue. Other than the wheels, the larger frame also acts as a shock absorber as there is more material to disperse road vibrations.

Overall speed. This is stating the obvious – more gear inches at the top end will give you more speed. On a more practical note, the momentum you get from bigger wheels also means you are able to cruise more comfortably at touring speeds. I mean, you could actually go fast with this as a Category 1 or 2 cyclist, but for everyone else who simply wants to enjoy the sights and sounds of being outdoors at a leisurely pace, it is extremely easy to cruise at 20km/h constantly without much effort. Again, this translates to less fatigue and allows you to cover much longer distances in relative comfort.

Climbing hills. This is where I felt the biggest impact of all. One would think that going up hills with bigger wheels would be tougher, but on the contrary, it was actually much easier. Even on the exact same gear ratio, there was less effort. I was primarily using the middle 39t chain ring and was quickly powering up hills I was already familiar with. The forward momentum produced by the bigger 700c wheels help propel you forward more than smaller wheels can. I could immediately feel the difference when doing the climbs towards Jalan Kerayong and while going through Bukit Tunku. Even with the basic Shimano Claris drivetrain, it performed fairly well and did not miss any shifts. Have I already mentioned that it is relatively light? And I already have plans to make it a bit lighter!

Random compliments. With the silver polished wheels, handlebars and seatpost, the Change Bike does exude a classic look. There's been a few times where I stop for a break and have had both random strangers and friends compliment the bike. Some even thought that it could be a classic Raleigh. The biggest surprise is when people usually try to lift it, thinking that it would be a heavy bike. The surprised looks I get followed by "Oh wow, it's actually quite a lot lighter than I thought!" are statements I get to hear.

Fuss-free folding mechanism. And to surprise people even further, I tell them it's a folding bike. A quick demonstration results in the same look of awe that I personally experienced when I spotted the Change Bike for the very first time. And throughout the ride, I completely forget that it is a folding bike because it rides EXACTLY like a regular full-sized bike. There are no breaks in the fold or difficult-to-release latches or clamps to worry about. It is a solid triangular frame with a clever built-in locking mechanism that is easy and quick to operate.

Can be wheeled while folded! For people who need to maneuver with their bikes in folded form at train stations, malls or any place where you're not able to wheel along a full-sized bike, this is a godsend. It is far easier to push a folded bike on a rolling wheel rather than getting an aching shoulder trying to awkwardly lift it. The carry/cover bag that comes with the bike also makes it a very neat package. The bag has an opening at the bottom which frees up the wheel to roll along when folded. For commuters especially, this particular design feature is a really big win!

The overall verdict

The transition from minivelo 20-inch wheels to 700c wheels is obviously night and day. With that said though, both wheel sizes have their advantages and disadvantages. Smaller wheels can accelerate like crazy in start and stop traffic, and is way more maneuverable in tight and crowded urban areas. Bigger wheels have the advantage of speed and momentum, where the effects can be felt especially if you plan on spending long days on the saddle when touring.

When deciding on the kind of cycling you'll be doing, take the above factors into consideration and take your pick. 

Exploring the recently constructed paths along the river behind the Sultan Abdul Samad building in Kuala Lumpur. 

Pros

  • It's a fairly light full-sized bike at 10.5kg that just happens to fold. If you want to go even lighter, I did a build exercise where you could replace everything but the frame with carbon components and get the weight down to 7kg. But that's crazy talk. Personally, I prefer to keep this as an alloy-and-steel only bike and not kill the classic design elements. With alloy components, I can realistically get it down to just a tad bit under 9kg without breaking the bank. And of course, classic silver components all the way!
  • 700c wheels and a standard road geometry frame that folds. As far as folding bikes go, Change Bike are in a unique position to offer a standard road geometry folding frame designed for 700c wheels. We have not seen any other manufacturer who is able to do this and keep the weight down. The closest would be the Montague FIT, but the Montague's frame is already heavier. If you need to transport the bike in its folded form by foot, picking up the Change Bike is less stressful than picking up the Montague. The Change Bike can also be wheeled while folded without any extra accessories!
  • Standard components for everything. It's just like any other road bike out there with rim brakes. You will never have a problem finding replacement parts for the bike, making maintenance fairly easy. It also means any bike shop will be able to service it. Also when it comes to upgrades, you have access to a huge market of bike parts. Need I say more?
  • Still fits in a car without folding down the seats. The bike in its folded form factor is able to fit at the back of a small hatchback without folding down the seats. Nadiah drives one and it fits perfectly with no issues and there's still room for another. Win!

Cons

  • Still not as compact as other folding bikes. If you are looking to travel with this bike, it obviously still isn't as compact as the Birdy or the Reach. I mean the limiting factor for size will be the wheels, and I forget how big 700c wheels are until I have them. With that said though, there are plenty of bike bags designed for full-sized bikes and you are spoilt for choice. Or just hang on to the cardboard box if you have space for it.
  • More color choices would be nice. They've only got black and white, which are both classic colors that you can never go wrong with. Still though, it will be nice to have more choices. A vintage blue or olive green would be nice additions and still fit the classic style.
  • No XS frame size. I've spoken to a number of women, my wife included, who would get the Change Bike in a heartbeat if it was offered one size smaller. The smallest frame size that's manufactured right now is Small with a seat tube measurement of 460mm. There are probably complex engineering considerations for an even smaller frame, so the 460mm size will have to do for now as the smallest!

With size as the only practical con listed, you can already guess how many stars I'm going to give to this folding bike.

So how many stars?

Excellent fit and finish as you can choose between four frame sizes. Decent standard workhorse components that work for commuting and travel. A clever and fuss-free folding mechanism. And a highly competitive price point – at the time of purchase, the MSRP was $1,200 (USD). For all the things you can do with this bike, it is by far the best price versus performance value I've seen. I think it's fair to say that it deserves all five stars.

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For more direct information about the Change Bike DF-702 and their other folding bike models, take a look at their website: http://www.changebike.com

Adventures with the Change bike

The bike did its first big trip in Andalucía, Spain. Read all about the journey here: